Work Specialization in Organizations

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  • 0:05 Organizing Work and Employees
  • 0:49 Work Specialization in…
  • 2:44 Advantages and…
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Sherri Hartzell

Sherri has taught college business and communication courses. She also holds three degrees including communications, business, educational leadership/technology.

Expert Contributor
Joseph Shinn

Joe has a PhD in Economics from Temple University and has been teaching college-level courses for 10 years.

One of the most important decisions an organization will need to make is how to get work done. This lesson will explain the purpose of work specialization in an organization and how it is used to organize separate jobs.

Organizing Work and Employees in Organizations

One of the most important decisions an organization will need to make is how to get work done. Some organizations prefer a team structure, or cross-functional structure, where employees work collaboratively on tasks, often sharing responsibilities and job roles. Other organizations have employees specialize in individual tasks so that the workers become highly proficient in their specialized area.

Work specialization, sometimes called a division of labor, refers to the degree to which an organization divides individual tasks into separate jobs. This lesson will explain the purpose of work specialization in an organization and how it is used to organize separate jobs.

Work Specialization in Organizations

From the start, all companies must decide on an organizational structure. The organizational structure refers to the type of framework a company uses to distinguish power and authority, roles and responsibilities, and the manner in which information flows through the organization. Having a suitable organizational structure will allow a company to implement proper operating procedures and will aid the organization in accomplishing its goals. For some organizations, specialization is the answer.

If you recall, work specialization, also called a division of labor, allows a manager to take complex tasks and break them down into smaller more precise tasks that individual workers can complete. Each employee is trained explicitly on how to best perform one small, specific task. Over time, that employee becomes extremely proficient and effective at performing that task. This allows every employee in the organization to be an expert to some degree.

Work specialization is particularly beneficial in manufacturing. Think of an assembly line where each individual employee completes one repetitive step in the product development process.

For example, Mary assembles the frame, Bob adds the sides, Erin paints the product, Josh checks that the product is complete, and Jack prepares the product to be shipped. The entire development process is extremely complex and made up of several specialized steps.

When these steps are divided among individual employees, it becomes far less complex. The product is finished and ready to be sold after each employee completes his or her respective task in the product development process. If one employee were responsible for the entire product development process, the results would be far less efficient and extremely time consuming.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Work Specialization

Advantages of work specialization include:

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Division of Labor Case Study

McDonald's was one of the first, if not the first, companies to recognize that work specialization was the best way to make and sell their food in the quickest way possible. They achieved this division of labor by having employees work on particular tasks. For example, instead of having every employee take a customer's order and collect their money, cook and put together their burger, cook and put their french fries in containers, and fill their drinks, they had different employees do each task. For example, they would have one person focus on taking an order, another person only makes the burgers, another person only cook the fries, and the fourth person only fills the drinks. In doing so, McDonald's was able to improve their efficiency and make each meal faster and, therefore, cheaper.

Keeping this concept in mind, think of another business that uses division of labor as a way to operate more efficiently. Once you think of a company, answer the following questions:

  1. What is the name of the company, and what is their product?
  2. How does the company achieve a division of labor? Be specific about what tasks different employees do and don't do.
  3. Why does the company do this division labor? If profits are the main motivation, be clear about how they can increase their profits by having employees specialize in certain tasks.

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